A campaign has been launched to encourage more domestic workers — commonly known as muchachas, maids or housekeepers — and their employers to sign contracts that define the workers’ rights and give them the benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Called “Decent work for you, for me and for all my colleagues,” the campaign aims to ensure that domestic workers are not subjected to discrimination and exploitation in their workplace.
Workers and employers signed 18 contracts on International Domestic Workers’ Day last month but now the goal is considerably more ambitious: 10,000 contracts signed before December 20, the date by which employers are legally required to pay an annual bonus called the aguinaldo.
According to Inegi, the National Statistics Institute, 95% of domestic workers are women and only 4% work under contracts in which their rights and obligations are clearly stated.
Many of them don’t receive the benefits they should and/or work under unfair conditions, say advocates on their behalf.
Consequently, the idea arose for a standard contract that formally recognizes workers’ rights to vacation days, pay rates on national holidays and the year-end bonus.
The contract is seen as an important tool because the federal government has not ratified a six-year-old International Labour Organization (ILO) convention that sets out guidelines for domestic work.
Behind the push for a more equitable and fair workplace are the National Union of Domestic Workers, formed in 2015, and the organization Hogar Justo Hogar (Home Fair Home), which have joined with the Simone de Beauvoir Leadership Institute to launch the campaign.
Union secretary general Marcelina Bautista explained that the contract was also designed to give certainty to employers about their legal obligations to workers.
“To the benefit of both parties, [the contract] establishes mutual respect with regard to human rights, a dignified atmosphere free of harassment, physical, moral and sexual violence, respect for the intimacy and privacy of both parties and a professional work relationship.”
Martha Lamas, a researcher at the National Autonomous University (UNAM), says that labor relations between domestic workers and employers have historically been unjust and the contract is one political step towards a change in an engrained culture that could take decades to make.
A representative from Hogar Justo Hogar, Maite Azuela, emphasized that an employer should not see signing a contract as an act of kindness but rather a ratification of what is already required by the law.
She says the contract contains “very logical” rights that everyone expects to have in their employment although she concedes that she has been guilty of not fulfilling her legal obligations in the past.
“If a domestic worker works a holiday, let’s say January 1, I would have to pay double. I didn’t used to do that but I went through life saying that I was a fair employer.”
Getting everyone who employs someone in their home to comply with established laws, however, is likely to be a long battle because some people think employment laws don’t apply in a domestic situation or are simply unaware of what their obligations are.
One worker says that when she tried to stand up for her rights, she faced opposition from her employer.
“. . . she told me she simply didn’t want to see the contract. She told me, ‘I’m not going to sign anything, I’m not going to read anything, in my house you only do what I say.’”
But in another case, in which the employer-employee relationship went back 15 years, the signing of a contract led to a hug and outpouring of emotion.